Adults' perception of native and nonnative vowels: Implications for the perceptual magnet effect

Academic Article


  • Two experiments were conducted to evaluate the perceptual magnet effect. In Experiment 1, American English speakers representing diverse dialects were presented with a fine-grained set of stimuli (varying in just noticeable differences for F1 and F2) and indicated whether they heard "/i/" or "not/i/," thus delimiting the /i/ portion of the vowel space for individual subjects. Then these same subjects selected their own /i/ prototype with a method-of-adjustment procedure. The data from this experiment were used to synthesize customized prototype and nonprototype stimulus sets for Experiment 2. In Experiment 2, 24 of our original 37 subjects completed a discrimination task for each of three conditions, in which vector stimuli varied from the subject's prototype, the nonprototype, or a foreign vowel (/y/) in 15-mel steps. Subjects displayed higher discrimination, as indexed by d′, for the nonprototype condition than they did for both the prototype and the foreign conditions. In addition, discrimination was better for variants further away from the referent in each condition. However, discrimination was not especially poor for stimuli close to subjects' individual prototypes - a result that would have yielded the strongest support for the operation of a magnet effect. This negative finding, together with other aspects of our results, raises problems for any theory of vowel perception that relies solely on "one-size-fits-air" prototype representations.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Frieda EM; Walley AC; Flege JE; Sloane ME
  • Start Page

  • 561
  • End Page

  • 577
  • Volume

  • 61
  • Issue

  • 3